By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Nets knew they'd squandered a pair of big opportunites Sunday night in Brooklyn.
First, they missed a chance to finally pull dead even with the Atlantic Division-leading Knicks with a deflating 105-93 loss to Atlanta at the Barclays Center.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, they bid a not-so-fond farewell to the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues before embarking on their eight-game, 17-day trip while the circus visits Downtown Brooklyn.
Fortunately for our borough's first pro sports franchise since the Dodgers left town in 1957, Motown was the first stop on their grueling road odyssey.
The Nets took full advantage of the lifeless Pistons on Monday night, cruising to a dominating 119-82 rout of Detroit before 16,072 fans at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Though the Knicks beat Utah to salvage one win on their six-game Western swing Monday and retain their ever-slimming lead in the division, the Nets (39-28) boosted their record, and collective egos, before visiting Dallas on Wednesday night.
"A lot of things that we didn't do well [Sunday] night, we did well tonight," said Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who watched Deron Williams continue his brilliant play since the All-Star break while getting a surprising lift from the previously idle bench veteran Jerry Stackhouse.
Williams poured in a game-high 31 points and Stackhouse added 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting in his first game action since Jan. 26 as Brooklyn dropped Detroit to 0-9 in March.
"I just wanted to impose my will a little bit more in this game. We gotta take this win and build on it," said Williams, who played just 28 minutes but surpassed the 30-point mark for the third time since taking a pair of games off prior to the break to get treatment on his swollen ankles and undergo a juice cleansing that helped him drop some pounds and get some lift back in his game.
"I think we really improved our game throughout the night," added All-Star center Brook Lopez after putting up 18 points and pulling down eight boards in the opener of the Nets' extended trip.
Stackhouse, who has been chomping at the bit to get some playing time the past month and a half, didn't waste any time when called upon to enter the contest. He looked as if he'd never missed a game, drilling jumpers and making an acrobatic layup that has his teammates leaping off the bench in celebration.
"Coach came to me and said he was going to give the younger guys some time," Stackhouse said of his long layoff. "He made sure that I stayed in shape and stayed ready to go so I can help in the playoffs. I think it has benefitted our young guys. It's been a blessing in disguise. If I had played all those minutes, I'd be worn down by now."
With stops in Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Denver, Utah and Cleveland still in front of them before they return to Brooklyn on April 4 to host the Chicago Bulls, the Nets will spend more time in the air and in their hotel rooms than they do on the court over the next 15 days.
Hopefully, when they find themselves back in Brooklyn, they"ll also be on top of the division and ready to make a serious run at an elusive NBA title after five long non-playoff seasons.
"This is how we needed to start off our road trip," Lopez said after whipping the Pistons.
Something tells me how they finish the trip will be of much greater importance.